We have a systemic problem at wide receiver, and only at WR. Let’s take for instance another position that has also suffered turnover, yet not failure, DT/NT. Since Haarbalke took over this has been our progession there:
Abruyo Franklin, Isaac Isopoaga, Ricky Jean-Francios, Ian Williams, now Glenn Dorsey. Each time we replaced a solid starter from within our own depth with a man who’d ascend to become a solid starter. Even this year, a surprise injury that could have left us very weak has not. We seem to know exactly what we are doing there.
OK, so let’s look at the progression at WR during that same period.
Week 1 of 2011 our starting WRs were Micheal Crabtree and Josh Morgan, tomorrow our starter’s will be Anquan Boldin and Mario Manningham. Before I rattle off what happened between then and now, allow me to point out this one little superfluous tidbit:
2011 – Mario Manningham makes a big TD catch that lofts NYG past us in the NFCC game, we sign him up.
2012 – Anquan Boldin makes many huge catches that loft BAL over us in the Super Bowl, we sign him up.
If you can’t build it, buy it.
From a certain perspective, the acquisition of first Edwards, a unique big-bodied talent, and then Moss, explanation not necessary, seem to fall outside the parameters that had us acquiring MM and Boldin. However, if you think about what we've "accomplished" through our own drafting and development of youth, these 4 WRs are quickly lumped into one group: If you can't build it, buy it. Now, let's look at what we've done in the draft alongside of acquiring these 4 veterans.
Here is WR draft prospects since 2008 (arbitrary date, though Jason Hill was a 3rd round pick in 2007 and was on the team to end 2010).
2008: Josh Morgan, Virginia Tech (Round 6, Pick 174) – Starter in 2011, solid but suffered broken ankle, went to IR, then allowed go to WAS.
2009: Michael Crabtree, Texas Tech (Round 1, Pick 10).
2010: Kyle Williams, Arizona State (Round 6, Pick 206) – le sigh.
2011: Ronald Johnson, USC (Round 6, Pick 182) – Missed the final cut as a rookie. Not 1 snap in the NFL.
2012: A.J. Jenkins, Illinois (Round 1, Pick 30) – Epic bust.
2013: Quinton Patton, Louisiana Tech (Round 4, Pick 128) – Epitomizes this question and its answer: can this team do anything at WR?
Let’s glance at the carousel of player’s who have been on our team, or who had a chance to produce, since 2011 who are no longer here:
2012: Randy Moss
Now, don’t quote the above exactly, I’m not a draft-nick and I don’t pay particular attention to rosterbation, so I concede I’ll have some names and dates wrong, but I trust that to be mostly inconsequential in regards to the purpose here.
On our roster right now: MM, Crabtree, Patton, Boldin, and Baldwin, plus Carrier, Carswell and Jacobs in reserve. Crabtree might be the silver bullet. He might step in and solidify the whole group instantly. But it really isn't about that, is it? It's good to exclude him not only because he's injured, and because his presence should not preclude building a solid corps, but also because he was acquired Pre-Haarbalke.
2013 marks Haarbalke's 3rd year together, at this point we should be able to perceive a philosophy, at least, a type of WR, a trajectory for the young guys, certain skills that they all have in common, certain attributes - but we can't. Look at just this year. Of course, Crab and MM started on the PUP and KW was a bit of a question mark coming off the ACL. Opposite Boldin it was Marlon Moore who started camp as the starter, with AJJ, KW, and Hawkins all in competition with him. All 4 have already been cut from the team, leaving us with only an injured Patton left from what we started with... 3 years in.
We didn't want Baldwin, we wanted rid of AJJ's contractual obligations. Patton might be a diamond in the rough, but he's a smallish 4th rounder. He could catch 2 balls the rest of the year and be considered Haarbalke's chief draft accomplishment at the position. Crabtree better be the silver bullet, cuz we can't figure it out on our own.
There are some major questions brewing. There is incongruity between F.O. and WR coaching/implementation. It's been a turnstile and nobody has stuck - outside of 3 big names who were already proven components when they shook hands with Haarbalke: Crabtree, Mario Manningham, and Boldin, we have nobody else on this team. No homegrown talent. So is it acquisition or development? What's the weak link? Who are we at this position? What is our identity?
I can’t talk about Alshon Jeffries or Stephen Hill, or whoever we may have passed on in the draft. I think our FO has picked up MM and Boldin in an effort to add championship experience, I also think we went after Braylon Edwards and Randy Moss to gain not only talent but experience too. It’s easy to identify what those players had in common, but what about the stark physical differences between AJJ and Baldwin? What do we value at WR? Do we have a size/speed philosophy at WR, has it failed, have we reversed course? Is MM a deep threat? Is he 100%? Do we miss the speed of Ginn and Moss?
Then again, maybe these are the wrong questions. Maybe the problem is much more simple.
It hasn't mattered who has been brought here, how old they were, what archetype they embodied, or how much experience they had, what we are seeing is a lack of production and a lot of turnover, or in other words, a highly unstable, failing position group.
The question then becomes: is it a case of players failing to execute their coaching or coaches failing to put players in position to succeed? Vernon Davis struggled to adjust to this offense, AJJ couldn’t get off the line, KW played out of position and mighta been something in the slot with Crab and Boldin on the field, Edwards was an oft injured head case, Moss did what he was supposed to do, Kassim Osgood is actually a special teamer, Marlon Moore is back on the Dolphins…rabble-rabble Hawkins.. rabble-rabble Swain...
But on the other hand, when Mario Manningham got here he called our passing routes remedial, and don’t forget that Ginn and Walker are suddenly having career years on new teams. Let's not even talk about Gore averaging ~40 receptions a year before 2011, now about 15, or the mysteriously disappearing screen pass, or the LMJ person who is asked to do lord knows what.
Fangio and Tomulsula don’t seem to be bothered by turnover along the DL, in fact, it looks like they dictate it. They operate an assembly line of producers. So why are Roman and John Morton so bothered in the passing game? Who is the 44 year old John Morton, anyway?
John Morton and Jim Harbaugh first appear together as offensive assistants on the staff for the Oakland Raiders. After Jim left, Morton remained and became the Raiders’ TE Coach through 2004, then in 2005 he reunited with Jim at USD where Morton first began coaching WRs. The next year he was with Sean Payton as an offensive assistant in New Orleans. Then in 2007 he joined USC, coaching WRs until Pete Carroll elevated him to OC, a job he did for 2 years before re-joining Jim and the 49ers as a WR coach in 2011, where he has since overseen this dumpster fire.
A healthy, full game-speed Crabtree, Manningham, and Boldin, combined with Vernon Davis and some role players (I thought KW, Patton and even Hawkins here) would be a very good NFL receiving corps. I mean very good. I also think Boldin produces at a #1 level IF he has a complimentary WR next to him. Crabtree is a true #1, and Manningham gets separation consistently. We don’t need much from these guys, but unfortunately, if Crabtree doesn’t produce this year our history tells us we won’t be getting anything from this position group.
Injuries and trades aren’t excuses that need apply to any other position group, so what’s the deal at WR?
I don’t know, but if the putrid Washington Redskins defense hampers our passing offense, I think the locker room is going to be in trouble. Fingers are going to start pointing, anonymous jabs are going to start leaking to the media, and maybe even a head will roll. We know Roman isn’t getting fired... so how about Jonny Morton?
Other members here have a better recollection of our player histories and understanding of our passing schemes; if you guys have any points to add, please do. This isn't my best work, it's a bit haphazard, I know, and it's coming pretty late but I had been considering this for awhile and wanted to put the question to NN before this next game. So what you got?